What Women Need to Know About Breast and Ovarian Cancer Testing

WHat women Need to know About Breast AND OVARIAN cancer testing
June 2012 

Women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer may consider genetic testing, but the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) encourages consumers to meet with a genetic counselor before undergoing genetic testing.

“Women who are considering genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer should seek guidance from a genetic counselor, who can help patients fully understand the testing process and the implications of results,” said Brenda Finucane, NSGC president. “It also is important for women to understand that family medical history can change over time, and it is crucial to be aware of recent diagnoses on both sides of the family.”

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, NSGC is helping women and their health care providers separate fact from fiction by dispelling popular myths about testing for breast and ovarian cancer.

MYTH: Any woman who wants to know her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer should undergo genetic testing.
FACT: Genetic testing is only valuable for women who are at risk for hereditary breast cancer and is generally not recommended for women with no personal or family history of these conditions. In fact, most women who develop breast or ovarian cancer do not have a detectable gene mutation. Genetic counselors can help assess your risk of developing cancer and determine if you would benefit from pursing genetic testing. Genetic counselors can also help identify the right test for you, explain the test results and provide support throughout the testing process. 

MYTH: There are only two breast cancer genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2.FACT: Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 cause the majority of cases of Hereditary Breast Ovarian Cancer syndrome. However, there are other gene mutations that cause breast and/or ovarian cancer to run in families. Collecting a comprehensive family history is the first step in determining whether cancer is hereditary and, if so, what gene(s) might be involved.MYTH: History of breast and ovarian cancer is only cause for concern if it is on your maternal side of the family.
FACT: While only about 5 to 10 percent of breast and ovarian cancers are inherited,   women can inherit a BRCA1 and BRCA 2 gene mutation from either parent. Half of the individuals who have an inherited risk of breast cancer inherited it from their father’s side of the family. Awareness of family history on both sides is extremely important when considering genetic testing. 

MYTH: A normal (negative) genetic test result means a cancer-free future. 
FACT: Unfortunately, that’s not the case. All kinds of things can increase your risk for cancer, and your genes are only one of them. In addition to family history, other factors can increase your risk of developing cancer, including environment and diet. Genetic counselors can help guide you to ensure the appropriate test is done and that you understand what each possible test result means.  Genetic counselors will assess the chance that you might develop a cancer over your lifetime and can work with your doctors to determine surveillance options appropriate for your personal and/or family history.

MYTH: An abnormal (positive) genetic test result means breast or ovarian cancer will develop in the future.  
FACT: A positive test result indicates an increased chance of developing cancer, but does not mean for certain a person will develop cancer. 

About the National Society of Genetic Counselors

NSGC is the leading voice, authority and advocate for the genetic counseling profession, representing more than 3,000 health professionals. The organization is committed to ensuring that the public has access to genetic counseling and genetic testing. For more information, visit www.nsgc.org.

NSGC Media Contact:
Veronica Jackson
Public Communications Inc.

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